Senate Takes Up Immigration Bill

June 12, 2013

pic-immigrationOn Tuesday, June 11, the Senate voted 82-15 to proceed to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) (or the Gang of 8 bill). This will begin what is expected to be an approximately three week debate on issues including border security, high-skilled worker visas, temporary worker visas and E-Verify.

NSBA is seeking amendments on the floor of the Senate to improve the bill, specifically, amendments to simplify the W visa program for small employers, and a variety of amendments to improve the E-Verify program.

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, will offer two NSBA-supported amendments.  The first would provide that penalties for failure to use E-Verify would only apply if the employer actually hired people who were not authorized to work.  The penalties in the bill can run as high as $25,000 per violation (e.g. $250,000 for not running 10 hires through the system) and five years in prison.  These penalties can be increased still further if the employer had a labor, employment or safety violation in the past. They apply even if the person hired is a U.S. citizen.  The second would provide that unless the E-Verify system achieves an error rate of 0.3 percent (1 in 333), then firms with 50 or fewer employees would not be mandated to comply.  Currently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) claims 0.26 percent but the agency has resisted having any accuracy standards.  The last independent analysis of the error rate put it at 0.7 percent (1 in 143).  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will offer a NSBA-supported amendment to ensure that U.S. citizens with U.S. passports may be treated as authorized to work notwithstanding what the E-Verify database says about their status.

NSBA is also seeking an amendment to reduce the E-Verify civil and criminal penalties to reasonable levels.  In the Judiciary Committee mark-up, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) successfully offered a NSBA-supported amendment that created a Small Business and Employee Advocate with the power to issue assistance orders resolving bureaucratic errors.  This important amendment will help a great many small employers and U.S. citizens caught up in the USCIS bureaucracy.  NSBA would, however, support an amendment broadening the USCIS Advocate’s power and authority to make it comparable to the Taxpayer Advocate at the IRS.  NSBA also is seeking amendments to place limits on how long USCIS can delay resolving E-Verify database errors and allowing small businesses to be compensated for out-of-pocket costs incurred because of E-Verify database errors.  The bill currently limits compensation to lost wages of employees.

To read the bill (S. 744 as amended by the Judiciary Committee mark-up), click here.

To read the committee report, click here.